Game industry: clans, not ecosystems

As the game industry in Finland experienced a rapid growth period starting around 2009 with Rovio’s unprecedented success, people started to talk about the game industry ecosystem. And so did I. What is more, professionals and academics across industries are seemingly talking more and more about ecosystems, but does the ecosystem metaphor really tell us much about the dynamics and relationships between actors in an ecosystem?

In some cases, it does work as a good metaphor. Take Android and iOS, for instance: on the application and platform level, it does make sense to talk about ecosystems as there seems to be an order of some sort: apps feed into the ecosystem and support each other (or ‘attack’ other apps) while the platform provides the framework for the ecosystem.

ecosystem
One way to see ecosystems. Dots and stars refer to applications, lines to positive (green) and negative (red) relationships.

I guess this is one way to see ecosystems: clear framework with somewhat logical relationships between the apps and between apps and the ecosystem.

But is this how firms work? Do firms behave in a logical fashion? Are we, as individuals, pure information-processing machines always on the lookout for the most optimal course of action?

Maybe, but there’s no reason we should take this parlance of industry ecosystems as granted. As the word itself implies, an ecosystem is a system with a pretty solid blueprint for how things are supposed or ought to work.

So what other metaphors could we use to make sense out of what is going on in the game industry?

Montréal-based researcher, professor Patrick Cohendet, and his colleagues have been looking into creative industries and especially  game industry in Montréal. In one of their articles, The Anatomy of the Creative City (2010), they propose that creative industry operate in three levels in cities: upperground, middeground and underground. Their stuff is actually quite interesting, and in a way it actually serves as a good springboard for the argument I’m trying to make here.

Namely, there are no ecosystems, but clans.

Clan as a structure is, like ecosystem, quite rigid, but mostly in terms of roles within the clan and who belongs to the clan.

clan_structure
Clan structure, and some of the relationships between external actors.

Clans can expand through marriage (heart in the image above), or they can engage in rivalries with other clans (the messy lines on the bottom left corner).

In a way this is something I have noticed in my own research some years ago when I was collecting data regarding the game industry ecosystem in Helsinki, Finland, but it is only recently that I started to think about clans (“blaming” Clash Royale here).

This is still work in progress, but thought you might find this interesting. Or what do you think? Is it a convincing claim? Does the metaphor give enough intellectual room to manoeuvre while being methodologically feasible?

 

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